Florida Preschoolers Embarking on New Journey Through Arts, Science

playful father and his son shaving and having fun in bathroomIt isn’t just Disney World that gives Florida-based students a reason to brag to the rest of the nation — now the Orlando Science Center and Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts are giving these kids something special: a better education.

Both centers are hoping to close the academic achievement gap between privileged students and those in poverty by introducing hundreds of preschoolers to the many benefits of arts and sciences.

Announced this past Thursday, August 28, the two centers will start targeting preschool students from the Nap Ford Community School and Washington Shores Head Start program. Not only will students be affected by this joint partnership effort, but teachers and parents will also benefit from the change.

“This can be that spark in a child’s life, that opportunity, that starts a child down the path towards something great,” said the science center’s president and CEO JoAnn Newman.

Project World of Wonder (WoW) will be a three year endeavor to change the lives of poverty-stricken children while functioning on a $400,000 grant from the PNC Foundation which is a financial services group. The PNC foundation’s main focus is on improving early childhood education.

If parents can establish great study habits with their child from a very early age, studying will become a natural part of their lives, and they’ll be more successful in the academic world because of it, which is what the two centers are hoping will happen. From 1990 to 2012, the percentage of 3 to 5 year-olds enrolled in pre-school programs increased from 59% to 64%, yet the achievement gap is still as wide as ever.

“If you look at underserved children entering kindergarten, they probably [have] the vocabulary of a 3 1/2 year-old, so there’s an 18-month gap to start with and it doesn’t get any better,” said PNC Regional President Joe Meterchick.

Educators and other personnel from the centers are beginning to work with preschool teachers to create a structured curriculum. They are familiarizing these teachers with how the centers work and function as well as making suggestions for lesson plans and activities that will go into affect this fall.

What sets this program apart from other national programs is that parents are encouraged to attend field trips that will be led by staff members and teachers in hopes to bring not just students up to speed in terms of education, but their parents as well.

“We are thrilled,” said Kathy Ramsberger, Dr. Phillips Center President. “This ties directly into our mission of making a difference in the community.”

The program offers hands-on activities that the kids will find both engaging and educational. Approximately 140 students will participate each year of the three year program and will hopefully come away with a better grasp for the arts and sciences fields.

Project WoW is already drawing plenty of both local and national praise for being the next big effort to push for better early childhood education. However, there is more work to be done when it comes to addressing the rest of the nation’s poverty-stricken children.

At the moment, Head Start programs are the most successful in battling the achievement gap. These prevention strategies place infants and toddlers in stimulating, developmentally appropriate learning environments throughout the year.

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